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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: timeline of Wisconsin history, 1836-1899

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Adapted and expanded from Schafer, Joseph. "Outline History of Wisconsin." 1925 Wisconsin Blue book (Madison, 1925) . More information about most people and places listed here, including links to original sources, can be found by searching them in this Dictionary.


1836. The Territory of Wisconsin was organized April 20, by act of Congress. Henry Dodge was appointed governor and on July 4, with John S. Horner of Virginia as secretary and Charles Dunn, David Irvin, and William C. Frazier as supreme court justices. The new officers were sworn in at Mineral Point, then the largest town in the Territory. The first territorial assembly met at Old Belmont, October 25. On November 24 Madison, then merely an idea for a town, which existed only on paper, was chosen the capital through the influence of Judge Doty, owner of the site. George W. Jones was elected by this legislature the first territorial delegate to Congress. On July 14, the Milwaukee Advertiser commenced publication. A land office was opened at Milwaukee, and the first school begun.

1837. An economic depression checked immigration and the only four banks in the Territory failed. A treaty was made by Governor Dodge with the Menominee by which they ceded to the United States about four million acres of land in Michigan and Wisconsin. After refusing to treat with Dodge, the Ho-Chunk were invited to Washington, where they signed a treaty ceding all their Wisconsin lands and agreeing to remove from the Territory. The town site of Madison was surveyed and platted, and the first capitol begun.

1838. Congress appropriated land to endow the University of the Territory of Wisconsin. Eighty post offices were established, and thirty-five mail routes. The Milwaukee and Rock River Canal Company was chartered. The second territorial assembly met at Madison in November; but lack of accommodations for the lawmakers caused it to adjourn until the following year.

1839. The adjourned session of the second territorial assembly met at Madison. The Wisconsin Marine and Fire Insurance Company (Mitchell's Bank) was chartered, and the first school taxes were levied. The first Baptist services were held in the Territory.

1841. James D. Doty was appointed governor, to succeed Henry Dodge.

1842. C. C. P. Arndt, a member of the legislative council, was shot and killed in the council chamber by James R. Vineyard, who was expelled from the council but acquitted of the charge of manslaughter. The first documented fugitivie slave case, that of teenager Caroline Quarles, occured; she was harbored in Milwaukee, Waukesha, and the Racein vicinity before bein escorts to Canada by Levi Goodnow of Waukesha.

1843. A cooperative industrial community, chiefly composed of English under the leadership of Thomas Hunt, settled at North Prairie, Waukesha County.

1844. The Wisconsin Phalanx, a Utopian commune organized on Fourierist principles promoted at Kenosha by Warren Chase, settled at Ceresco, now Ripon. Doty was removed from the governorship of the Territory, and Nathaniel P. Talmadge appointed his successor. The first Episcopal diocese of the Catholic church was erected at Milwaukee.

1845. Talmadge was removed from the governorship, and Henry Dodge reappointed. A large Swiss colony was planted at New Glarus, Green County. A Mormon colony was organized by James Jesse Strang at Voree, near Burlington, Racine County.

1846. The people voted in favor of a State government. Congress passed the enabling act, and the first. constitutional convention opened at Madison, October 15.

1847. A special census showed a population of 219,456. April 5, the first constitution was rejected by popular vote. The second constitutional convention opened at Madison, December 15. On Nov. 21 occured the state's first shipwreck, the burning of the steamship Phoenix off Sheboygan, with a loss of 148 lives, of which 127 were those of emigrants who had come from Holland.

1848. The second constitution was adopted by popular vote March 13. Wisconsin was admitted into the Union under act of Congress approved May 29. Nelson Dewey was elected first State governor. The first legislature convened June 5, and two days later the State officers were sworn in. Henry Dodge and Isaac P. Walker were elected United States senators, and Andrew G. Miller appointed judge of United States district court. A free school system was established by law. A land grant for a university was made by Congress and the State University was incorporated. A large German immigration settled in Milwaukee and the eastern counties. A partially successful attempt was made to remove the Ho-Chunk to Long Prairie, Minnesota. The Menominee ceded a large tract east of the Wisconsin and north of Fox River and moved to a reservation in Waushara County.

1849. The construction of a railroad from Milwaukee westward was begun. In January the first telegram was received in Milwaukee. Cholera was epidemic throughout the State. "Gold fever" caused a great exodus to California. The State Historical Society was organized by members of the first State legislature, January 30. The Wisconsin Farmer was begun at Racine.

1851. The first railroad train in the State was run from Milwaukee to Waukesha. The first State Fair was held at Janesville.

1853. Charges were filed for the impeachment of Levi Hubbell, judge of the second judicial circuit. After a protracted trial by the senate he was acquitted. Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad completed to Madison.

1854. A meeting was held at Ripon, February 28, to organize a new political party, which was subsequently named Republican. A convention held July 13 in the capitol park in Madison, organized the Republican party in Wisconsin. Joshua Glover, a fugitive slave arrested at Racine on March 10, was on the following day rescued from the Milwaukee jail by a mob of anti-slavery men. Sherman M. Booth was arrested May 26, for aiding in this affair, and committed to jail. The State supreme court decided that the federal fugitive slave law of 1850 was void, and discharged the prisoner. This decision was afterwards (1859) reversed by the supreme court of the United States. The first class was graduated from the State University. The State Historical Society was reorganized, and Lyman C. Draper chosen secretary.

1856. William Barstow, Democratic governor, was accused by opponent Coles Bashford of election fraud; the proceedings terminated in favor of Bashford, who took office March 25. September 24, the steamer "Niagara" was burned off Port Washington, when John B. Macy, a pioneer member of Congress from Wisconsin, perished. Margarethe Meyer Schurz opens the first kindergarten, in Watertown.

1857. Milwaukee and Mississippi railway was completed to Prairie du Chien. The monetary panic of this year was severely felt. The legislature passed a law against kidnapping within the State, to neutralize the effect of the federal fugitive slave law.

1858. An excursion train celebrating the opening of the Chicago & Fond du Lac Railway (later the Chicago & Northwestern) was wrecked November 1st at Johnson's Creek, Jefferson County; fourteen persons were killed and seven wounded. A legislative investigation exposed the bribery of prominent officials by the railways, and the improper use of United States railway land grants. In February, trains of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad begin to run to Prairie du Chien.

1859. Byron Paine, defense attorney for Sherman Booth in the Glover case, was elected to the State supreme court upon an anti-slavery platform. Abraham Lincoln delivered an address at the state fair, Milwaukee, October 30.

1860. The Sherman M. Booth case was again in the courts; the prisoner escaped from federal jurisdiction, but was rearrested, October 8, after which he was pardoned by President Buchanan. The steamer "Lady Elgin," returning to Milwaukee from an excursion trip to Chicago, with six hundred excursionists aboard, sank September 8 in a collision off Racine, and two hundred and twenty-five persons, mostly from Milwaukee, were drowned.

1861. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, on April 15th Gov. Alexander W. Randall issued a proclamation calling for volunteers. Thirty-six companies tendered their services within one week and sixteen regiments were mustered during the year. George C. Drake of Company A, First infantry, was the first Wisconsin soldier to be killed in the War; he died July 2 at Falling Waters, Va. A bank riot at Milwaukee caused an attack on Mitchell's bank.

1862. On April 19, Gov. Louis P. Harvey, while on a visit to the South to care for Wisconsin soldiers wounded at Shiloh, was drowned in Tennessee River. Edward Salomon became governor in his stead. In April, about 700 Confederate prisoners were received at Camp Randall, Madison. In May, the President called for 75,000 more troops, of which Wisconsin's quota was about 3,000. In August 300,000 additional troops were called out; the Wisconsin quota was about 12,000. November 10, a draft was resorted to for the troops required, which occasioned riots in the Milwaukee, Port Washington, and other eastern counties. Wisconsin auxiliaries of the Sanitary Commission were formed. The Democratic State convention held at Milwaukee September 3rd issued the Ryan address, criticising the federal administration. An Indian outbreak in Minnesota caused alarm in the northwestern part of Wisconsin but was soon suppressed by the government.

1863. A soldiers' hospital, named in honor of Governor Harvey, was opened in Madison. Pro-war Democrats held a convention in Janesville, September 17, at which they passed resolutions of loyalty and repudiated the Ryan address.

1864. James T. Lewis inaugurated as fourth war-time governor. February 1, the president called for 300,000 more volunteers; in March 200,000; in July 500,000; and in December 300,000. Wisconsin's quota in these various calls aggregated 53,483, and 5,784 Wisconsin veterans re-enlisted. Military hospitals were opened in Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien. The Wisconsin Christian Commission was organized at Milwaukee. First cheese factory in Wisconsin established by Chester Hazen at Ladoga, Fond du Lac county.

1865. Recruiting in Wisconsin ceased April 13. The whole number of troops furnished by the State during the war was 91,379, with losses by death of 10,752. Most Wisconsin troops were mustered out of service during the summer and autumn. June 28, Viroqua, in Vernon County, was wrecked by a tornado that killed 14 and injured over 100 persons. July 13, ex-Gov. James D. Doty died; December 13, ex-Gov. William A. Barstow.

1867. Increase Lapham publishes a report warning that overlogging will destroy the state's forests; Laura Ingalls Wilder is born on February 7, 1867 in a log cabin in Pepin County; Frank Lloyd Wright is born in Richland Center in southwestern Wisconsin, on June 8, 1867

1869. The first bill to regulate railway rates was introduced in the legislature, but met defeat.

1870. The continued presence of Ho-Chunk Indians, who had agreed to leave the state by treaty, alarmed white settlers who petitioned Congress to remove the remnant of that tribe from the State.

1871. October 8-10, great fires occurred in Door, Oconto, Shawano, Kewaunee, Brown, and Manitowoc counties; one thousand or more persons perished and three thousand were rendered destitute. Peshtigo was nearly destroyed. Large contributions came from all parts of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, France, and Germany, relieving the sufferers and providing them with comfortable homes, food, implements, and clothing.  First automobile developed in Wisconsin by Dr. J.W. Carhart.

1872. Congress made an appropriation for the removal of the Ho-Chunk. In February, the Wisconsin Dairymen's Association was organized at Watertown, with "market days" established for the meeting of buyers and sellers of Wisconsin cheese.

1873. The financial panic of this year caused distress in manufacturing and commerce. Invention of the typewriter by C. Latham Sholes of Kenosha. The Democrats, on the issue of railway regulation, raised by the "Grangers," elected a State ticket for the first time since the Civil War. The Ho-Chunk were forcibly removed to their Nebraska reservation but many of them returned to the State. July 4, a great storm occurred on Green Lake, in which ten persons were drowned; much property was also damaged in Fond du Lac and Sheboygan counties.

1874. The "Potter Law," placing a limit on railroad freight and passenger charges, was enacted as a result of the Granger movement. When challenged in the courts, the law was upheld by the Supreme Court; Justice Ryan's opinion is still cited in support of government's power to regulate corporations. It was repealed in 1876.

1875. The manufacture of cotton cloth was commenced at Janesville, the first in the State. Women were first made eligible to school offices. On April 28, Oshkosh was largely destroyed by fire.

1878. Hundreds of settlers in Burnett County left their homes in fear when a new religious movement swept through Ojibwe communities; they were induced to return by military officials sent to investigate.

1880. A patent was granted to John Stevens of Neenah for the first roller flour mill, which has revolutionized the milling processes of the world. The bicycle becomes a viable means of transportation.

1881. The first serious labor disturbance occurred in September at Eau Claire, when sawmill operatives demanded a reduction of hours. Rioting and injury of property ensued, and eight companies of the National Guard were called out to keep the peace.

1882. The State constitution was amended to provide for biennial legislative sessions, which until then had been annual.

1883. January 10, the Newhall House in Milwaukee was burned; seventy persons perished. November 8, the south wing of the capitol extension at Madison fell, killing seven workmen.

1884. Ringling Brothers give their first circus performance in Baraboo.

1885. High-grade iron ore was discovered in the Gogebic range; a "boom" for the region began, and new towns sprang up.

1886. The Bay View Riot occured, May 1-5, when workmen in Milwaukee struck to secure an eight-hour day. Unarmed demonstrators were fired upon by the National Guard, who killed seven people.

1887. A "boom" in Gogebic iron stocks was followed by a crash, in which small investors lost heavily. June 27, Marshfield was almost entirely destroyed by fire, 1,500 persons being rendered homeless; the property loss was between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000. Wisconsin's first worker safety law, which required fences or guards around gears, shafts, bull-wheels and pulleys.

1889. The Bennett Law, which called for compulsory education in the English language, was passed by the legislature. 

1890. The state supreme court decided that Bible-reading in the public schools is sectarian instruction, and therefore unconstitutional. Discovery of the Babcock Test which revolutionaized milk production, and the subsequent establishment of the University Dairy School.

1891. Gov. George W. Peck and the Democratic legislature secured the repeal of the Bennett Law.

1892. On July 25, a fire at Iron River caused a loss of $200,000 and left 1,500 persons homeless. A succession of fires occurred in Milwaukee, including the Third Ward fire (October 28); $5,000,000 in property was destroyed.

1893. Financial panic resulted in the failure of the Plankinton, the Marine & Fire, and other Milwaukee banks. 

1894. July 26-30, disastrous forest fires visited Douglas, Hayfield, Ashland, Chippewa, Pierce, Taylor, Marathon, and Wood counties. Phillips, the county seat of Price, was almost entirely destroyed, and over twenty persons lost their lives.

1895. Legislation passed to prohibit race discrimination in restaurants, inns and other public accommodations in Wisconsin.

1897. Minimum age for employment was raised from age 13 to 14 for Wisconsin residents.

1898. Wisconsin raised and equipped four regiments of infantry and one battery for the Spanish American War -- 5,469 men in all. In July and August occurred a strike of woodworkers in Oshkosh mills and factories, accompanied by rioting and bloodshed; State troops were called out, and peace was restored through compromise.

1899. On June 12, a tornado destroyed the entire town of New Richmond; over fifty persons were killed, with a property loss of $1,000,000. Relief was sent from all over the State and from neighboring Minnesota cities.

View related articles at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.


[Source: Schafer, Joseph. "Outline History of Wisconsin." 1925 Wisconsin Blue book (Madison, 1925) ]
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